The country's last case of the wild polio virus was
detected on Jan 13, 2011, in a two-year-old girl in the state of
West Bengal. Three years without any new cases means India can be
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the
world where the disease remains endemic.
"We give huge credit to the government... It makes us extremely
proud and highly responsible for having helped the government to
reach this incredible achievement," India's WHO representative, Nata
Menabde, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Menabde said the WHO would officially declare India as polio-free by
the end of March, when the legal process for certification was
Until the 1950s, polio crippled thousands every year in rich
countries. It attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible
paralysis within hours of infection.
The highly infectious disease often spreads in areas with poor
sanitation — a factor that helped it keep a grip on India for many
decades — and children under five are the most vulnerable. But it
can be prevented by population-wide vaccination.
India had been considered one of the toughest places in the world to
eradicate polio. Many families in poor, high-risk states such as
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrate for work, while other communities
live in remote or inaccessible areas.
Menabde said millions were involved in the drive to immunize
children by giving them polio drops.
They targeted migrant families at bus stations, on trains, at
construction sites, and at local festivals. Some used motorcycles or
trekked by foot to reach remote villages.
As a consequence, over 170 million children are immunized every
year, with millions more targeted on house-to-house visits. The
drive has cost the government $2.5 billion since 1995.
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In 2009, 741 Indians fell sick with polio, nearly half the
world's cases that year. The number dropped to 42 in 2010 and only
one in 2011.
India's success has given impetus to the global fight against polio,
"While the whole global eradication was stagnating, India has
been the rescuer of this belief that it is possible," she said.
"Polio eradication is a very costly operation and so donors and
partners were losing hope and patience. Now they are all very
actively mobilized into channeling their efforts."
There were 148 cases of polio in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan
in 2013, while 224 new cases were detected in non-endemic countries
such as Somalia, Syria and Kenya.
These countries face a range of challenges such as violent
conflicts, weak health systems and poor sanitation. In Pakistan,
gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers, accusing them of
being Western spies and part of a plot to sterilize Muslims.
(Editing by Shyamantha Asokan and
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